Sexual Violence: Current Dangers and Future Changes
By Ada Puryear Burnette, Ph.D.,
Member of the Tallahassee/Leon County
Commission on the Status of Women and Girls
Past and Current data on the status of sexual violence against females in the United States of America are staggering. Almost 1 in 5 American women are victims of rape during their lifetimes. Although women of all ages are victims, 44 percent are under age 18 and 80 percent are under age 30. Four of the five assaults were committed by someone known to the victim although 68 percent of rapes are never reported to law enforcement and approximately only 2 percent of rapists ever spend any time in jail.
The incidences on college campuses in the United States have increased at an astonishing rate in recent years. The media has been most responsive recently to the ways in which Tallahassee has handled sexual violence. Some high profile cases clearly showed that the Tallahassee/Leon County Commission on the Status of Women and Girls (CSWG) had to perform a comprehensive study of how sexual assault cases have been and are handled.
This year-long study has resulted in a lengthy report that provided information on local policies, procedures and services related to sexual assault; determined models seen as best practices in the nation; and, developed significant recommendations designed to improve the response to and prevention of sexual violence in this community. Over 50 stakeholders, community members, and some CSWG members, the CSWG’s Sexual Assault Policy Group, helped to collect the data and ensure the accuracy of the data.
Information was gathered in the areas of prevention, medical care, follow-up, school and workplace responses, investigation and prosecution, and interagency collaboration. The data clearly show that Tallahassee can take many steps to reduce sexual violence significantly and that there have been several institutional advances. Among these has been the Tallahassee Community College’s (TCC) Police Department’s memorandum of understanding with Refuge House, a community service program that deals with sexual assault. Florida A&M University implemented a sexual misconduct policy as part of its Student Code of Conduct. Florida State University created a full-time Sexual Violence Prevention Coordinator position and set up the ‘kNOw MORE’ Sexual Violence Prevention Campaign. The Tallahassee Policy Department has partnered with End Violence Against Women International to update its sexual assault investigation policies and to train its personnel on best practices. The city of Tallahassee, Leon County, and TCC have put into practice improved policies for sexual violence, domestic violence, and stalking. Tallahassee Memorial Hospital and Refuge House are working together to establish a standalone facility where victims of sexual violence can receive forensic examinations, treatment, and advice.
A 2002 study showed that the majority of sexual assaults are committed by serial offenders. The best weapon against these predators is victims who have the courage to report their attacks and a system that treats victims with respect and sensitivity. Recommendations by the CSWG are to ensure that personnel in local law enforcement agencies are trained to work with victims, to investigate reported cases by increasing the number of staff assigned to this area, to respond to the needs of the victims, and to conduct thorough and consistent investigations. All agencies should develop a consistent method of collecting, cross-checking, getting data on victims and assailants, being confidential of victims, and installing procedures to prevent rape and sexual assault. Community members must be educated on sexual assault as well as prevention and reporting strategies. Tallahassee is on the right track to prevent sexual violence which is largely on females although males are also victims. Significant measures must be taken against all perpetrators and the Tallahassee/Leon Commission on the Status of Women and Girls is commended for its major actions.